Part III of IV — A Change in Perception
If you think back to when you were a child, what stands out as your greatest holiday memories? When we reminisce, most of us don’t recall stuff so much as we relive emotional experiences.
Holidays are stressful because of the time and money involved in preparation. But less time and money and more thought can produce long-lasting smiles.
Your most treasured memories are associated with the feelings you had from an experience, not just the gift. Every time you recall that event, you relive the warmth that you felt back then.
A few examples come to mind. In the fifth grade, I lived on an Air Force base in Goose-Bay Labrador. I felt isolated and lonely and missed the prior, fabulous holidays that my grandparents always provided.
Christmas started when we’d go to the lot and get the largest tree we could find, decorate it with handmade ornaments and lots of twinkling lights. I was the first grandchild, so my grandparents piled the presents under the tree, and I would peruse each gift tag to look for my name. My grandmother prepared food that was beyond anything I’d ever tasted — homemade stuffing and mashed potatoes, freshly baked pumpkin and pecan pies, and bowls of pan-made gravy that we heaped on mounds of fresh sliced turkey with extra-crispy skin. Lots of family and friends visited to share merriment throughout the week.
This year in Labrador was going to be different. Everything seemed black and white. The frigid Arctic conditions, limited sunlight, and the absence of department stores and shops magnified my gloomy feelings.
To my surprise, my grandparents sent me a toy catalog and asked me to circle the items I’d like to have and to make a list of anything else I’d like for Christmas.
Shortly before the big day, a huge box arrived, and as I placed the beautifully wrapped packages under our tree, I found myself crying. It was clear that they had gone overboard to make Christmas extra special. But it wasn’t the contents of those boxes that provided the emotions that enveloped me while opening the gifts. My grandparents did not have a lot of money, they weren’t even going to see me open the presents, but despite all that, they made sure I had a memorable Christmas. Their generosity provided me a permanent template for the spirit of giving.
I vividly recall one patient who hit the mark with every person for whom he gifted. He had recently started a business, and his funds were limited. But that didn’t prevent him from putting a great deal of thought and care into what he wanted to give to those he loved. For each family member, he took the time to think about a gift that they would enjoy. A framed poem, a longed-for (out of circulation) book were among his carefully selected items. He then personally wrapped each gift in his own non-traditional style with brown paper, colored string, and hand-written cards. His face glowed when he described the grateful responses of those he shared his consciously selected presents.
Recently, my daughter gave her step-father a 1956 Life magazine with Mickey Mantel on the cover. This was the perfect gift for a baseball lover like he, who loves the nostalgia as much as the game.
Attuning your thoughts to the personality of the person you are gifting will allow you to hit a lasting mark in your loved one’s memory. If you make a conscious attempt to put some creative thought into finding something meaningful, you will successfully build the best memories alongside the best gifts. When all is said is done, that is all we have and what we hold dearest in our hearts.